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Council faces legal action over failure to return ashes of babies

Shropshire Council is facing legal action from parents over a crematorium’s failure to return the ashes of their babies.

Slater & Gordon is acting for 19 parents who claim that the Human Rights Act was breached at Emstrey Crematorium.

According to the law firm, between 1996 and 2012, the equipment for cremation used the same setting for adults and children, which made it difficult to recover small amounts of ashes.

Partner Ian Cohen argued that parents had suffered psychological injury as a result of not receiving their babies’ remains.

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He also claimed the practice breached Articles 8 and 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998 – namely the right to respect for an individual’s private and family life and the right to an individual’s religious thoughts and beliefs.

Cohen said: “Every parent will understand the fundamental need to look after and protect their children and those feelings don’t stop after they have passed away.

“The families we have spoken to cannot help but feel that they have failed to protect their children and that is as a result of the actions of Shropshire Council.”

Cohen added that the biggest issue for his clients was to ensure that mistakes were not repeated. He has written to Justice Minister Caroline Dinenage MP to ask when a national consultation is likely to go ahead.

This consultation was announced after an inquiry led by Shropshire found more than 50 families had been affected. Parents in other parts of the UK were discovered to have suffered similar experiences.

The Slater & Gordon partner said: “There is a real desire from these families to be involved in the consultation. They weren’t involved in the original decisions taken regarding their children’s ashes, and when the report was done for Shropshire Council most of them weren’t asked to give evidence.

“In order to ensure that lessons are learned they have to be given a voice and consulted about what has happened, what went wrong and what can be done to put it right.”

Bereaved families in Shrewsbury founded the ‘Ashes 4 Ashes’ group which visited 10 Downing Street earlier this year to deliver a petition signed by 61,000 people calling for the return of ashes to be a legal requirement.

Campaigners have also said they would also like to see a national inspector for crematoriums appointed.

George Candler, Shropshire Council’s director of commissioning, said: “Shropshire Council confirms that they have received a letter of Notification from Slater & Gordon in respect of Emstrey Crematorium, and this has been passed to the council’s insurers, who will deal with the matter confidentially in the usual way.” 

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